What Is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis, or TB, is a bacterial infection caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. The bacteria typically infect the lungs. They can infect other areas of the body, like the kidney, spine, or brain.

TB is spread from person to person through the air. When a person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria travel into the air and may be inhaled by a person standing nearby.

The bacteria may be inhaled, but it may not necessarily cause infection or illness right away. It can remain dormant in the body, but may become active and cause symptoms at any time.

At one point, TB was the leading cause of death in the US. As treatments were developed, the rates began to drop. Today, there are many fewer cases.

TB is still a major health problem in Africa. This is largely due to the high number of people with AIDS. They are at a higher risk of getting TB.

Symptoms depend on where the bacteria have settled and grown in the body. The lungs are frequently infected. Symptoms of TB infection in the lungs include:

  • A cough that is persistent for three weeks or longer
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats

TB can be treated with antibiotics. Without treatment, the disease is often fatal.

What Is the BCG vaccine?

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine, or BCG, prevents TB.

The vaccine contains live, weakened bacteria. It is given as shot in the muscle.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

The following individuals should be considered for vaccination:

  • Primarily intended for use in children:
    • It is widely given in the developing world.
    • In the developed world, it may be given in certain cases. For example, a child may get the vaccine if he is around adults who have TB.
  • Healthcare workers and people who work in labs
  • People who live or work in highly populated facilities (eg, nursing homes, hospitals, prisons)

The vaccine is usually given once. It may be given twice in some cases.

What Are the Risks Associated With BCG Vaccine?

The vaccine may cause a TB skin test to have a false-positive reading. This means that you may test positive for TB even though you do not have it.

Common side effects of the vaccine include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Redness at the injection site
  • Fever
  • Bloody, frequent, or painful urination
  • Abdominal discomfort or vomiting

Symptoms of an allergic reaction (eg, rash, trouble breathing) require medical care right away.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

You should not get the vaccine if you:

  • Have a compromised immune systems, such as those who are infected with HIV/AIDS
  • Are undergoing an organ transplant
  • Are pregnant

Because TB is airborne, prevention of airborne transmission is important.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

Containing the virus depends on giving antibiotics and isolating people who are infected. It is important to take all of the antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria and to avoid spreading it to others.